Per question #2 of The 7 Essential Meta Questions of Every Beta, what should our FAQ contain?

Critical issues that the FAQ needs to address:

  • 2
    Though I suppose we need to wait for those issues to be resolved before we try putting them into the FAQ
    – user47
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 4:08
  • 1
    It's good you posted this. If an issue comes up, you can bump your post to the top of the queue by editing it and adding more details. :)
    – jmort253
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 5:51

8 Answers 8


Most of the questions we're trying to come up with so far are high-level questions on the specifics about genealogy.

But what really turns every genealogist's crank are solving their genealogy roadblocks. That is why the average genealogist would come here - with the hope that they can solve their particular mysteries.

Big example of this was my posting of Extract Facts from an Army Portrait which was a real problem I had and I could get no further. My hope was that maybe this question would be up for a few months, and someone would give me a clue and I'd get to do some more research.

But I never expected to get my answer almost immediately because of something I did not realize (that the word at the bottom right of the picture was a town name) which those-in-the-know, i.e. people with some experience/expertise with those pictures picked up right away and told me. And that led to a complete eureka and a feeling of exaltation that only a genealogist knows.

I'm saying we have to allow these sorts of questions. If we bring expert/experienced genealogists together with the general genealogy populous, and people's roadblocks get answered, then this site will be doing its job. This is what will attract millions (not knowing what Primary source versus Secondary source is).

It will be like StackOverflow, where I ask and answer programming questions and programming roadblocks get answered in hours, sometimes minutes. (I'm not there to find out the difference between a for loop and a while loop)

So yes, we absolutely must allow roadblock questions.

But we also must somehow in the FAQ, state the standard and criteria for what these roadblock questions should and can be. They must be quality question that an expert will be willing to answer and not just junky things like "My grandfather was John Smith who lived from 1823 to 1885 in Pittsburgh. Who were his parents?"

Hopefully, we can somehow figure out the criteria for roadblock questions clearly and precisely and put it in the FAQ.

  • Sources are not primary or secondary; sources are original or derivative. It is information that is primary or secondary. The reason to have such questions on the site, in part, is that some experts will be turned if answer after answer confuses basic distinctions like this.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 14:48
  • @GeneJ - But original sources are called "primary" and derivative sources are called "secondary", are they not? princeton.edu/~refdesk/primary2.html
    – lkessler
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 2:06
  • I know. This is the stuff that makes genealogy a discipline. I actually hope that is set up as a question, because it is a good question and it can be answered. For our purpose here, consider the different application of a census. Historians are working with the powerful but more general information in the census--as a whole or in mass, the census information is strong. We deal with the line items--which can often be errr... just crap.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 2:32
  • Roadblock questions may very well be the primary thing that initially drive people to the site.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 2:09

Justin808 brought up a good question about how to handle sensitive personal information. Since Genealogy does deal with information that could potentially be used against someone, it's worth mentioning this in the FAQ.

In fact, I'd say that it's worth mentioning that questions that contain SSN's and that require this information to be answered be off-topic. If at all possible, such questions should be edited and generalized so that the answers would apply to any visitor trying to solve a similar problem, without having to expose anyone to liability or identity theft.

This does seem like a borderline case, but maybe worth mentioning...

I also want to add that my opinion is based on SSN's of people who are living. Perhaps someone with more knowledge than I can explain if SSN's belonging to the deceased are sensitive and if this could be a problem....

  • Living person's SSNs are in-fact what I was referring to :) Once a person is in the SSDI it would be safe to post.
    – Justin808
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 5:44
  • @Justin808, thanks for clearing that up. Still, it might be a good idea to mention that in the FAQ. If I see a SSN posted somewhere, my natural reaction is to panic and look for ways to delete it. :) Likewise, a young, inexperienced, youthful and ignorant-of-the-dangers-that-lurk-in-the-world genealogy enthusiast may see a bunch of SSN's and think it's safe to post any SSN. :)
    – jmort253
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 5:49
  • 1
    youthful and ignorant-of-the-dangers-that-lurk-in-the-world genealogy enthusiast -- the reason I made my post :D
    – Justin808
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 5:55
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    Actually, I think it might be worthwhile to ban any messages that give details of any living person.
    – lkessler
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 5:56
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    ftr - SSNs are NOT private: they're a matter of public record. That being said, it doesn't mean I want to do the "Lifelock" thing and print my SSN on the side of a truck and drive it through the US.
    – warren
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 14:47
  • 1
    @lkessler - I don't think that's necessarily the best option, either (banning specifics of those living). eg, if they would be someone who is on wikipedia (or could be - it is wide-open), then "banning" them here would be somewhat silly.
    – warren
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 14:48
  • 2
    @warren - that's a fair enough counterpoint.
    – lkessler
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 21:15

Please consider a FAQ stating that record entry varies by software, and recommend that questions pertaining to "how do I record ...." should mention or even specify the name of the software in which the user wants to make the entry.

I bring this up because we want expert answers, and while there are many expert/power users of specific software, few are expert in many, much less all.

P.S. This would also allow for good categorization--meaningful tags for the different software options.


In support of lkessler's answer that we should allow 'brickwall', 'roadblock', 'research' questions about specific individuals. Some of the comments on this and other questions argue against this. In addition to the previous answers in support, I'd like add an additional argument. The Beta guidelines show that a 'good' site has alot of hits from internet search engines. We need to get lots of specific people/locations/sources/etc included in the text of our Q's and our A's since most people doing genealogical internet searches are searching on specifics.


Please consider a FAQ about copyright infringement. If SE believes this is unnecessary for a specific site, then perhaps they would provide a forum in which we could discuss this a little further.

Experts will be turned off if they see long extractions of their posts copy and pasted to the SE site.


As far a research support, I've been hoping to spend some additional time on "Code Review" StackExchange to learn how the concept of work in process was managed so well on that S.E. site.

Might those who participate on the Code Review have some tips for us?


A list of what is considered on and off-topic. This will save us a lot of trouble in the long run. Here is a basic format for it:

What kind of questions can I ask here?

Genealogy and Family History - Stack Exchange is for expert genealogists and people interested in genealogy or family history. If you have a question about...

  • topic 1
  • topic 2
  • topic 3
  • topic 4

and it is not about...

  • topic 5
  • topic 6
  • topic 7
  • topic 8

... then you're in the right place to ask your question!

Please look around to see if your question has been asked before. It’s also OK to ask and answer your own question.


From what I've seen in the first week or so of public beta, we need to add two things to the FAQ:

  • In questions looking for a information on an ancestor, make it specific. Don't ask "Any information on my ancestor, John Smith? He lived in NY in the 1800s." Be specific about what you want to know; otherwise all answers will be equally valid. E.g., "Need help find birth certificate of John Smith. He lived in NY during the 1800s."

  • In those types of questions, include all information you've already accumulated and the research you've already done. It saves us time and helps us help you more efficiently.

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